B.C. specialist doctors: lack of hospital resources having ripple effect on care
Posted May 31, 2023 7:27 am.
Last Updated May 31, 2023 10:52 pm.
As more doctors come forward with warnings about a dire shortage of resources in some of B.C.’s busiest hospitals, some specialists are speaking out about the ripple effect on patient care.
CityNews spoke with a specialized surgeon, who agreed to speak to CityNews on the condition of anonymity, who suggests some colleagues are actually turning away a majority of referrals because they can’t get proper support for their patients.
The surgeon works at a hospital within the Vancouver Coastal Health region and says staffing shortages and a lack of resources at hospitals in neighbouring Fraser Health are a major concern, but a lack of funding and support for hospitalists is also a huge problem right across the region as contract talks with the “house doctors” are ongoing.
Hospitalists are the doctors — general practitioners — who work within hospitals and coordinate care for patients outside of the emergency room. If you are transferred out of the emergency room, it is a hospitalist who takes charge, and some specialists feel an erosion of that role leaves a gap in care.
“One of the biggest issues is the fact that our administrative/managerial staff continues to grow, but without meaningful engagement or with front-line staff. Specialists, for example, know what our patients need, but we are constantly being strong-armed into providing care that is contrary to what is in the best interest of our patients,” the surgeon told CityNews, suggesting the situation is more dire than what has been made public.
“Some specialists have to turn away [the] majority of referrals due to inadequate resources to support patients we take on. It takes a massive emotional toll to know that you have the expertise to help patients in dire need, but have no way to care for these patients, due to lack of resources,” the surgeon said.
They believe the situation is even worse in Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) authority hospitals than others in the region, but others may soon catch up.
“Part of the issue is that Fraser Health wants to downgrade hospitalist service similar to what we have at VCH, which essentially amounts to less hospitalist services and funding. We actually worse off here — for now. In essence, health authorities are in competition with one another to find the lowest common denominator.”
The specialist says there has even been discussion around dismantling some of the specialized health care units at their hospital.
“All of the above definitely leads to poor outcomes as well as irreparable burnout and mental health deterioration amongst health care staff. There’s so much that is so wrong at present,” they added.
For weeks now, groups of healthcare providers have been speaking out through open letters, describing what they see as critical shortages of frontline resources in facilities like Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH), Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) in New Westminster, and Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody.
Healthcare crisis gets the political treatment
Politicians are blasting the province for what, they feel, is a lack of leadership on the growing healthcare crisis.
Stakeholders met on Tuesday for an emergency summit to come up with solutions and recommendations to address the issue.
Surrey Brenda Locke says her city is growing quickly and has been for some time. She feels funding investments south of the Fraser used to be consistent but claims they money has dried up.
“When we look at where dollars are spent by the provincial and federal governments, it’s north of the Fraser every single time. The growth in Metro Vancouver is here, south of the Fraser. It’s where the projected growth is going to be, and we have been ignoring that for decades and we have now reached the tipping point,” she said.
“I’ve seen bed after bed after bed in hallways. Family members trying to keep the dignity of their loved one in a hallway setting. It’s not OK.”
She has met with Health Minister Adrian Dix to discuss the problem and has offered solutions, which she says include building a second tower at SMH but says nothing has changed.
“Fundamentally, we’re also talking about things like doctors. People don’t have their own personal doctor. I don’t have a GP,” added Locke who goes on to say the provincial government doesn’t understand the desperate need for access to healthcare. “I don’t think they understand the need in the entire Fraser Health region and the size of it and the growth that’s happening here.”
Roughly one million British Columbians don’t currently have a family doctor, adding to the pressure on regional emergency rooms.
“I’ve been at SMH, and I’ve done one of those real tours, not the one where you’re cutting a ribbon and I’ve seen bed after bed after bed in hallways. Family members trying to keep the dignity of their loved one in a hallway setting. It’s not OK,” Locke said.
Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts says the healthcare crisis is not a new problem, and echoes Locke’s comments that the region has been ignored.
Funding investments dried up a long time ago, she says. “When you look at the [number] of children that are being born here, the lack of women’s services, the lack of maternity care south of the Fraser is really quite significant.”
She thinks SMH should be a designated trauma hospital, like RCH.
“The system is broken, and the system needs to be fixed and you can only do that when you have the frontline healthcare professionals… to come to the table and really look at the solutions. We have to realize hallway medicine is just not adequate,” said Watts.
Where is the province?
Opposition politicians are among those wondering where the health minister is.
“I am stunned by the lack of leadership by the minister. I am stunned by the lack of acknowledgment of the depth of the crisis that our communities are facing and it’s time for results,” said BC United Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko. “The lack of leadership from [Dix] is, frankly, disturbing. This minister is failing in his duties and a change needs to happen asap.”
— Trevor Halford (@TrevHal) May 30, 2023
BC United MLA for Surrey-White Rock Trevor Halford wants Dix to take accountability.
“It’s perplexing that we still have a minister in charge when we see doctor after doctor speaking publicly. We got a minister who continues to put his head in the sand and pretend that everything’s OK here. Clearly, we’re at a crisis level at multiple hospitals. Everything is not OK. Patients are suffering and, in some cases, losing their lives,” he said.
Both MLAs say the majority of people coming forward to their respective offices are recounting horror stories of what they’re facing when trying to get care.
“Whether it’s the fact they can’t get their family doctor or whether the fact is now they’re thinking twice in terms of whether or not they take their loved ones to a hospital in Surrey or Langley because of what they’ve seen, and they’re scared of the care they may get,” said Halford.
“Clearly, we’re at a crisis level at multiple hospitals. Everything is not OK. Patients are suffering and, in some cases, losing their lives.”
There was an emergency summit held in Surrey on Tuesday for stakeholders from various backgrounds, including medicine, to come up with recommendations to address the healthcare crisis. Halford says not one member of the BC NDP was in attendance.
“There’s an absolute failure in leadership at the provincial level, whether it be Premier [David] Eby, Minister Dix and now this is a community that’s starting to take that mantel and take that leadership and actually get the people who need to be in the room to find the solutions and try and get this crisis to a much better place than it is today,” said Halford.